My post on Google earlier Tuesday was met with mixed reactions. A few folks agreed that, in fact, Google's suite of services is quite slick, long live GOOG, etc. Others, like fellow ZDNet blogger, Michael Krigsman, disagreed pretty strongly. In his response, Michael didn't leave much doubt as to his feelings on Google:
Dude, I can assure you that Google is not my friend. Trading partner? Sure. Sometime ally? Maybe. Back-stabbing neighbor? Now we’re getting closer.
He did make a particularly good point, one that is easy for Google devotees to forget:
Whether or not they realize it, all Google users engage in an implicit business deal with the company. Those amazing, so-called free, tools come at the cost of your privacy. Google hoards your data for use anytime, anywhere its voracious heart desires. The clever company is always thinking up new ways to slice and dice your personal data in service of its corporate profit.
Perhaps not put in the most flattering terms, but fairly accurate. There is no such thing as a free lunch; obviously I need to give Google something for all of the super cool tools it gives me to use in my personal, professional, and academic lives. This isn't news to me and it isn't news to my users (who I encourage to use Google's tools). It isn't news to them because I make it abundantly clear what it costs to use Google's services.
Interestingly, a user on Slashdot who, in is own words, "strived to maintain his privacy", talked about his losing battle:
I am seriously considering throwing in the towel and signing up for Gmail, Facebook, the lot. If 'they' have my soul already, I might as well reap the benefits of this newfangled, privacy-less, AJAX-2.0 world.
Really, for the mere price of my soul, I think there are worse deals than all of the services available from the great and powerful GOOG. I know what I'm getting into. I feel a bit like Rodney Dangerfield: "Take my data...Please!" Google can have it. Do I use Google for some of my, well, less savory searches? No, I don't. Do I use it for doing serious work and teaching students and adults to work together online? You bet I do.
Google is not beyond reproach, as one of my readers pointed out. However, those of us who advocate for free software know that there may be some compromises inherent in its use. One of my secretaries pointed out how much easier it is to do a mail merge in Office 2007 than it is in OpenOffice. It can be done in OpenOffice, but it isn't exactly as seamless as it is in Redmond's suite. Then I pointed out to her that the new computer a student was using in the office was only there because of money we had saved on software licensing by switching our elementary users to OpenOffice. She got the point.
So too, there are compromises with Google's software. They want my data. They want me to click on those ads that eerily mirror the content of the mail in my Gmail account. Fine. They can have all the data they want. As long as we know the price and understand our "implicit contract" with Google, does it matter? Caveat emptor and all that. Not a bad lesson to teach our students, either. They still think they have privacy. So young...So naive...